As Brandon (BA ’17) and Blake (’19) Barkdull pull up to the stoplight in their pink food truck they quickly draw the attention of a pedestrian crossing the street. The two brothers enjoy seeing his reaction to the Frank Sinatra music blasting from its speakers and the two brothers wearing baby blue suits and sunglasses. The brothers begin to blow bubbles out the truck’s windows as the pedestrian crosses in front of the van. This pedestrian just witnessed Provo’s Penguin Brothers in their natural habitat.
The Barkdull brothers got their pink food truck at the end of 2015, named themselves the Penguin Brothers, and began selling custom ice cream sandwiches at various food truck events. Their one-of-a-kind style came together almost by chance. The blue suits were a Christmas gift from their mother, the Penguin Brothers is a nickname that comes from wearing Penguin brand ties, and the Sinatra music is just a “classy vibe” the brothers love.
“We bought the food truck pink. We had every intention of painting it a different color and getting a wrap, but the first event we ever booked was with The Alison Show and she asked us to keep it pink to match the colors at the event,” said Brandon. “There were like 700 women there. They just went crazy for it . . . and after the event our catering business went through the roof. We realized, ‘This is our market, so why change a good thing?’”
The Barkdull brothers try to match their unique style with unique ice cream cookie sandwiches, offering eight ice cream flavors and seven cookie options. Some of their more popular combinations are lemon cookies with blueberry lemon thyme ice cream, chocolate chip cookies with no bake flavored ice cream, and snickerdoodle cookies with coconut cream pie ice cream. Their ice cream cookie sandwiches were popular enough that the brothers couldn’t continue baking the cookies on their own and had to find a local supplier to meet demands. Recently, the brothers opened up a store west of BYU campus to keep up with business.
Creating a great product and equally great atmosphere have been top priorities for the two brothers, but enjoying their time as co-owners is just as important. “We’re not doing this because it looks good. This isn’t merely a resume item. Me and my brother have so much fun together doing this,” said Brandon. “People see our pink truck and we’re inside in our blue suits just having a good time. We love seeing people’s faces, wondering, ‘What is happening?’ Their reaction is just priceless. We love it.”
However, starting a business can be difficult and the two brothers did it as full-time students at BYU. “We didn’t know how to balance school plus business. One would always take the back seat,” Brandon said. “After six months, we finally got a handle on it. We learned to plan and organize our time better so that, during this block of time, we’re doing school. But if we’re working, I’m going to set aside this block for Penguin Brothers.”
Blake is still at BYU studying neuroscience and plans on graduating in 2019, while Brandon just recently graduated from BYU’s Advertising program. While finishing his degree, Brandon tried to find ways to apply school work in his business and vice versa. “There was a research project we did, where you had to build surveys, do focus groups, and do some secondary research. There were some design projects too,” said Brandon. “So, I just did [everything I could] for the Penguin Brothers.”
Additionally, Brandon and Blake also use the many sources of mentorship available to them. “I consider most of the professors as consultants, so I could go to them and draw on their experience. Like Chris Cutri and Pat Doyle from the AdLab, and Mike Swenson from the marketing program,” said Brandon. “I think the biggest help of all was Corbin Church . . . he taught my entrepreneurship class. He let me work with him on a few projects and from that I was able to learn a lot that we applied with Penguin Brothers.”
The brothers try to provide learning experiences to their student employees and involve them in business operations such as marketing, finances, and event organizing. Each employee does much more than just scoop ice cream.
The Penguin Brothers is enjoyable for Brandon and Blake, but it is more than just a hobby. They have goals to open more store locations and purchase more food trucks. All in the name of delivering “Desserts with class,” to as many people as they can.
— Braden Taylor (’19)